Sometimes those of us who need God’s mercy most impede its flow. So instead of an outpour, we receive just a few drops.
This is sad, but sadder still is when we then believe a trickle of mercy is all God wants to give us.
Years ago, after telling a spiritual mentor about how I’d viewed pornography again, he recommended we go to God together so I could confess my sin directly to Him. As we prayed, I told Jesus how I’d been stressed recently and that I should have come to Him with my stress instead of running to sin; I told him I was sorry and that I really wanted to do better. I pleaded for His forgiveness.
Right in the middle of pouring my heart out, my mentor interrupted my prayer: “Josh, stop. Just tell Jesus what you did.”
As heartfelt as my prayer was, I was slipping into a subtle trap. Instead of simply and honestly confessing, I was trying to give God reasons to forgive me.
But mercy, by definition, cannot be earned. The more you’re worthy of it, the less you need. And so likely, the less you’ll be open to receive. This is an irony, isn’t it? We add explanations and self-righteous sounding language to our confession of sin in hopes God will see fit to lavish us with forgiveness, but it is our inability and unworthiness of God’s mercy that draws mercy to us like a magnet. Mercy, like all God desires to give us, is a gift. God loves to give good gifts generously to His children.
But a gift isn’t a gift if you’ve earned it, it’s a wage. So the question really boils down to this: Do we want to entrust the flow of God’s mercy to what we can earn or to God’s grace?
My mentor’s question helped me cut out the fluff and instead, plainly confess what I’d done—without commentary, explanation, blaming, self-justification, or even self-recrimination—casting myself wholly on God’s heart for me rather than my ability to convince Him to forgive. In turn, the mercy I was able to receive that day came (and was received) as pure grace, pure gift!
But here’s the real kicker: When we pay attention, we’ll notice that any instinct we have to try to convince God we’re worth forgiving has roots that go down to an image of God that is faulty. It’s a god that is more stingy, angry, uncaring, aloof, irritated, or unforgiving than the God revealed to us on the cross. So when we lay down our attempts to convince God to forgive us, we get to experience God more as the loving, caring, compassionate, comforting, close, and loving God He truly is.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
If you’re in need of mercy, find someone to pray with you and you can pray a simple prayer like this:
“Jesus, I confess I [name the sins you’ve committed]. Would you have mercy on me?”
He will. Thank God.
I’d love to hear your thoughts? Can you relate with my experience of subtly trying to do or say things to convince God to forgive? Please leave a comment below!